November 13, 2009

Abu Dhabi Photos

Finally got around to taking -- and posting -- some photos.

As you'll find out, there's not a whole lot to see here. But maybe this will give you a little taste.

November 12, 2009

The Feeling of Fall in the Air

The weather has cooled here, finally breaking 90 degrees. It's all the nicer because the humidity right now is under 50 percent and there's a breeze. It's actually pleasant.
As much as I hated going out when I first arrived, I now want to spend as much time outside as possible. I went to the beach on Tuesday, and it was just a really nice day. The beach, unfortunately, isn't open yet; it's still under construction. People nearby told me it would open Nov. 16, so I'm looking forward to that. Instead, I sat on a really nice outdoor deck and had some ice cream and read my book. I was a little overdressed for the beach. You can't very well stand on the street in shorts and a tank top and hail a cab. So i had on linen pants and a tank and a button down shirt covering it, and packed beach clothes in a tote.
But it's one thing to sit on the ladies and family beach in a tank top, and another to do so on a deck. So there I sat, all bundled up.
This isn't unusual for me.
I wear long sleeves almost every day, and often have two shirts on for better coverage, so I've been looking forward to the cooling trend. As hot as I feel when I'm outside, I try to look at the women in full abayas -- black ones -- and take comfort that I'm not as covered up as they are.
We have a dress code of sorts at work. The idea is to dress modestly, so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities. That means sleeves to the elbow for women and skirts below the knees. Because the office is so cold, I just go ahead with the long sleeves and wear pants. After a while I layer on sweaters and scarfs as needed. What I'd really like on weekends -- when it's particularly cold in the office -- is my Ugg boots. But I can't imagine wearing them on the street.
People say it will be comfortable like this until March, at least.
That would be amazing.

November 11, 2009


Going to the grocery store here is a treat. There are several little groceries on almost every street -- probably four small stores within a few steps of our hotel -- and I haven't spent much time in them. I would imagine they're like a corner grocery in any big city.

But the big groceries, the ones in the shopping malls, are pretty amazing. They are what the Europeans call Hypermarkets, with groceries and dry goods and clothes and electronics. And the grocery sections have a vast selection. The yogurt aisle will rival any I saw in France. (And in France, a yogurt aisle is like a U.S. water aisle)

The cost of living here is high only because the cost of housing is high. Food is not a major expense, unless you opt for one the many fancy restaurants in the hotels. But that is the case in almost any city.

I do our weekly shopping on Wednesday, usually. It's the day off I share with Paul. I like it when he goes with me, because it's easier to handle a week's worth of groceries with two people and no car of our own. But he shops like a guy: He goes in, gets what's on my list, and gets out. I like to look at all the amazing things. That's how I find all the new treats I bring him, like teriyaki flavored rice crackers. So while I appreciate his help, I think I'll probably go on my own next time.

Because Abu Dhabi is an expatriate city, there are goods from all over. In the Lulu Hypermarket, located in the Al Wahda Mall, the array of vegetables, for example, is incredible. You can get four kinds of eggplant and three kinds of pomegranates and a host of things I couldn't identify if my life depended on it. I like that each item has, under the price, the country of origin. I don't know what makes Tunisian pomegranates half the price of Indian ones, though. I can figure out why the perfect tomatoes from Holland are so much more expensive than the imperfect ones from Yemen. But I don't know that they taste better. And for the life of me, I don't know why lettuce is so astonishingly expensive.

Often, in foreign shops where you can get products from home, you pay for the privilege. This isn't usually the case here. A can of soda is 27 cents. You can get cereal and cake mix and Nestle's Quik and Peter Pan peanut butter at about the same price it costs in the U.S. (or less, in the case of cereal). French-branded yogurt is more expensive than local (which is 27 cents for about six ounces). And local cheese is cheaper than imported cheese. But it's still cheaper than at home. I paid about $11 a kilo ($5 a pound) for sliced Dutch cheese. But Feta cheese from Saudi Arabia is 11 dirhams (about $3) a kilo.

Prepared food is astonishingly cheap. I can get a small container of hummous or labneh or cut-up fruit or olives for about $1. A six-pack of fresh pita bread is 27 cents. So there is definitely an incentive to bring my lunch to work instead of ordering out.

What I'm not used to is doing the shopping for a full week, and not cooking. We're still in the hotel, and while there is a full kitchen, there is no stocked pantry. So cooking is often more trouble than it's worth. (And I find I'm missing key things, like a frying pan or a carrot peeler.)

So it's too bad I don't have the outdoor markets I had in Paris, but I have something different here. Next, I hope to find the equivalent of a souk with spices and teas. Abu Dhabi is so good about bringing the world here, I just wish I could find more of the UAE in Abu Dhabi.

Drive Me Crazy*

We have decided not to get a car here in Abu Dhabi. At first, it was for practical reasons. Why get a car when taxis are (supposedly) readily available and quite affordable? It seemed like short-term, it wasn't a good use of resources.

But now, the reason we won't get a car is the traffic.

Imagine an entire city populated by 16-year-old boys who have just received their licenses and are driving SUVs. Now you can begin to picture Abu Dhabi. Drivers give no quarter. They are extremely aggressive. The goal is to be the first one to the next light. And then there's the honking. You honk if the person in front of you stops too quickly (nevermind that you are the one tailgating). You honk if someone doesn't go *before* the light changes. You honk if you even suspect someone might want to get into your lane. Sometimes, there is no obvious reason for the honking.

Presumably all the drivers here have driven in their home countries. Presumably, too, the rules of the road are similar. Yet most other countries do not have the reputation for dangerous roads that the UAE has.

The blocks here are very long, and there is often no way to cross except at the light. This makes jaywalking desirable, and terribly dangerous. To thwart jaywalkers, the traffic authority has placed wrought iron barriers with pointy tops along the medians, to keep people from crossing the median on foot. But in the places where one is allowed to cross freely, there are always people darting across the road. And I swear drivers speed up when they see pedestrians, just so they can swerve and honk. It's crazy. And as traffic backs up, it is common for pedestrians to try to cross between cars. Most of the major streets are four lanes on each side, so it's kind of tricky to cross, even when the cars are stopped.

And because the blocks are long, the only way to get to the other side is to make a U-turn. U-turns are very big here. And it makes crossing against the light especially dangerous. So when crossing, you have to look out for the right-hand turners as well as the U-turners. The crossing light, in theory, saves you from the U-turn drivers. But you're on your own for the right-hand turners.

There are merge lanes on the right side of the road where the side streets intersect. In most of Europe, the traffic on the right has the right of way. That never happens here. It is not unusual for two cars to try to turn right at the same time. And then, for some inexplicable reason, they stop dead. Drivers don't wait until the way is clear, and they don't go fast enough to get out ahead of the oncoming cars. On the other hand, you will never see an oncoming car slow to let the merging car in. He will always speed up.

Paul says it's clear the taxi drivers do not own their cars, because they abuse the transmissions by going into overdrive between lights *my brother-in-law Alan says the proper term is "kickdown."

And the other reason not to have a car is parking. That is truly something to see. There are parking areas between the main streets and behind the buildings and shops. Cars park diagonally, as in a normal lot. But cars also parallel park in the middle, between the two diagonal lanes. And sometimes there is a double line of parallel parked cars, making passing quite difficult. This does not keep people from using the parking lots as streets, either.

The whole thing makes driving in Italy, or New York City, or even Hong Kong, look like child's play.